For a while, I’ve owned the title of writer, accepting it as a part of who I am, as much as the titles engineer or mom. These are all things that, once you become them, you do not unbecome them.
It was not ever thus.
Many writers struggle with owning the title of writer.
We caveat it – aspiring writer or pre-published writer – and reserve author for those who have completed a novel/published a novel/reached some milestone.
Before we have some tangible “proof” with writing “credits,” we’re embarrassed to admit to our friends and family that we’re not just hobbyists, that we are serious about this writing business. Sometimes we’re afraid we will be ridiculed or get the faint praise that people lay on dreams they think are doomed.
I was one of those writers.
I wrote for a while without telling anyone (other than my husband), like it was some kind of dirty secret I had to keep hidden under a rock. As if creating stories that stirred emotions (even if they were only mine) was something to be ashamed of.
Sad. I know.
The truth was that I was afraid someone would think it silly for a Ph.D. scientist to write love stories. Or that I was simply plain bad at it, creating only cringe-worthy prose (which was certainly true in the beginning, but that only meant that I was at the beginning).
My brother, the real writer in the family, quickly beat that notion out of me. He insisted that I needed to write, because creating something original had intrinsic value in the world. And he knew the soul-crushing fear that came along with sharing that act of creation with the world. He was my first true writer-friend that understood. Still, I resisted. Again and again.
The day I owned the title of writer was a surprise to me. I’d sent a manuscript to be printed at the local Staples, and when I went to pick it up, the Staples guy asked, “Oh, are you a writer?” My answer was out before I thought about it. “Yes. Yes I am.” I was shocked after the fact. This acceptance of my writerhood had seeped in without my knowledge, a stealthy thing that snuck around my anxieties and preconceptions.
Which is why I was nothing less than stunned that none of this crazy was passed on to Dark Omen, my son who self-published his first novel at age 12. (He’s now 14 and working on the third novel in his trilogy).
Shortly after we self-published his first book (for friends and family to enjoy), we were gathered for a family dinner, celebrating Grandma’s birthday. Dark Omen’s aunt had started reading his book and asked him that innocent question that young writers often get.
“Are you going to be a writer when you grow up?” she asked.
“I’m already a writer.” Dark Omen paused a beat. “But, yes, I plan to continue writing books.”
I high-fived him right there at the dinner table! Because he owned it in a way that I couldn’t have imagined doing after finishing my first novel.
I learn things all the time from my kids. After dinner, Dark Omen and I talked. He was baffled as to why anyone would be embarrassed to say they were a writer. You see, he had attended one of the Writing While Teen workshops I had given at the library. He had taken the words I preached at that workshop and believed them. Then he echoed them back to me: If you write, you are a writer.